Bonfire Night: Magical Delight or a Night Full of Fright?

Celebrations and fireworks have gone hand-in-hand for thousands of years and cross all cultural and religious barriers. From the Early Chinese in the 9th century to the 18th-century celebration of Bastille Day in France, from the 4th of July celebrations across America to our own Bonfire Night; fireworks create a crescendo that is seemingly unrivalled.


But these glittering, colourful bursts of joy can also have a very real, very dangerous reality.

In the US, the ‘CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) staff has reports of 126 fireworks-related deaths between 2004 and 2019,’ with 12 of those occurring in 2019 alone.[1]


Similarly, each November, from 2014 to 2018, according to NHS Digital Data, we can see a clear highlight in the North West region for firework-related A&E admissions increasing from 25 to 70 cases per year each November.[2]

From the data, we cannot assume that these are 70 individual cases, but the increase from around 20 cases on average, to 70 in the month of November is still, clearly startling.


So how can you stay safe this Bonfire Night?



Attend Firework Demonstrations

According to the Children’s Burns Trust, ‘most injuries happen at private or family displays,’[3] and attending large scale events run by professional pyrotechnic teams or your local council can remove most of the risks associated with firework accidents. By attending these events rather than holding your own, you can be safe in the knowledge that:


  • All staff are professionally trained and vetted.

  • No staff will be under the influence of alcohol.

  • There is a maintained safety-exclusion zone- around ‘35 feet for […] ground-based items and 150 feet for all aerial items is recommended.’ [4]

  • Emergency first aid services, such as St John’s Ambulance are usually on-site already, or at least on stand-by to attend. [5]


Crowd watching greenish fireworks with their phones held in the air.


Alcohol and Fireworks

Another very common way of celebrating an event is with an alcoholic drink. From champagne to mulled wine, cocktail selections, and craft beer tastings; it seems most of us enjoy a drink at a party. The same can also be said for Bonfire night, with a reported 90% of private, garden displays having alcohol present.[6] On average, responders to the research explained that they had consumed at least 2-3 units of alcohol,[7] equivalent to one large glass of wine, or a pint and a half of lower-strength beer.

However, the guidance is particularly clear regarding this potential issue; stating


‘Don't drink alcohol if setting off fireworks.’[8]

The Fireworks Code:[9]


  • Stand well back

  • Keep pets indoors

  • Keep fireworks in a closed box

  • Only buy fireworks that are CE marked

  • Light at arm's length, using a taper

  • Follow the instructions on each firework

  • Never give sparklers to a child under five

  • Don't drink alcohol if setting off fireworks

  • Always supervise children around fireworks

  • Light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves

  • Never put fireworks in your pocket or throw them

  • Never go near a firework that has been lit - even if it hasn't gone off it could still explode



More Traditional Bonfires

Whether in celebration of anti-establishment protest, or an excuse to be surrounded by the hypnotic dance of live flames, traditional bonfires still hold vast appeal and are commonly lit in celebration for November 5th across the country.


However, Merseyside Fire and Rescue, among most other local and county fire services, urge caution and to avoid setting fires of any kind during any period of the year. Merseyside Fire and Rescue have previously attended ‘243 deliberately started small fires over the Bonfire period.’


Large, traditional, triangular bonfire burns with white and orange flames, on a black background

The advice for bonfires is much the same for fireworks: it is advisable, and encouraged, to go to a local, privately run bonfire than setting your own up in your back gardens as these are held to much stricter safety standards and will result in lower risks for celebrants.

If you must set up your own bonfire, it is advised you adhere to the following safety tips:


  • Bonfires can only be held on private land with the owner’s permission

  • Warn your neighbours beforehand - so they are aware and can make necessary preparations

  • Only burn dry material, do not burn anything which is wet or damp, this causes more smoke

  • Check there are no cables (telephone wires etc.) above the bonfire

  • Build the bonfire well away from buildings, sheds, fences, and trees

  • Check for animals that may have used the bonfire as a place of refuge.

  • Do not use petrol or paraffin to start the fire it can get out of control quickly. [12]


Once the bonfire is lit, make sure you:


  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby - in case of emergencies

  • Do not leave the bonfire unattended

  • Keep children and pets away from the bonfire

  • Do not throw any fireworks into the fire

  • Do not burn aerosols, tyres, canisters, or anything containing foam or paint - this could produce toxic fumes and some containers may explode, causing injury

  • Once the bonfire has died down, pour water on the embers to stop it reigniting and ensure it is completely extinguished.’ [13]



However, you choose to celebrate this season; wrap up warm, stay cautious, and stay safe! And make sure Bonfire night is one to remember- for all the right reasons.


_____________________________________________________________________________

[1] US Consumer Product Safety Commission, ‘2019 Fireworks Annual Report,’ page 9.

[2] NHS Digital, ‘Hospital admissions and A&E attendances for firework injuries,’ <https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/supplementary-information/2020/hospital-admissions-and-attendances-for-firework-injuries> 13.10.2021

[3] Children’s Burns Trust UK, ‘Fireworks,’ <https://www.cbtrust.org.uk/fireworks/> 13.10.2021

[4] Phantom Fireworks, ‘Safety Tips for Firework Safety,’ <https://fireworks.com/education-and-safety/safety-tips> 13.10.2021

[5] Image from Pexels.com, courtesy of Rahul Pandit

[6] BIS, Department for Business Innovation and Skills, ‘Fireworks Safety,’ page 6, <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/31865/10-1038-fireworks-safety-media-toolkit.pdf> 13.11.2021

[7] As above.

[8]Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service, Fireworks Code, bullet point 8, <https://www.cheshirefire.gov.uk/public-safety/campaigns/events/bonfire-and-firework-safety/the-firework-code> 13.11.2021

[9] As above

[10] Merseyside Fire and Rescue, ‘Bonfire Safety, <https://www.merseyfire.gov.uk/safety-advice/community-safety/bonfire-safety/> 13.11.2021

[11] Image from Pexels.com, courtesy of Jens Mahnke

[12] Merseyside Fire and Rescue, ‘Bonfire Safety, <https://www.merseyfire.gov.uk/safety-advice/community-safety/bonfire-safety/> 13.11.2021

[13] As above.

Cover image from Pexels.com, courtesy of Pixabay

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